“One Missed Call” (2003) – A.J. Hakari

Takashi Miike is known chiefly as a purveyor of the cinematic shocks most stateside directors aren’t brave enough to unleash. But these are just a fraction of the five dozen or so movies he cranks out every year. For every Ichi the Killer or Sukiyaki Western Django, there’s something along the lines of One Missed Call. While it contains its fair share of gruesome tidbits, this is almost as tame as Miike can get, having thrown his hat into the traditional J-horror ring. For some, this may seem like a wake-up call for a waning genre, until you realize that One Missed Call is every bit as monotonous as its brothers.

Strange things are afoot around Yumi (Kou Shibasaki) and her friends. Following a night on the town, one of the troupe receives a voicemail message — only it’s from herself, and days in the future to boot. The bizarre call is all but forgotten, until said friend dies at the exact same time the message was to have been sent. Yumi sees it as an unfortunate coincidence, until more of her acquaintances bite the big one under similarly spooky circumstances. It’s only when gal pal Natsumi (Kazue Fukiishi) receives a ghostly vision that Yumi suspects that a supernatural curse is at work. Luckily, she’s not alone, for intrepid funeral director Yamashita (Shin’ichi Tsutsumi) began investigating the deaths after his sister became an early victim. But the pair must work fast to unravel the mystery behind the curse and break its circle of violence, especially after Yumi gets that fateful call herself.

For the most part, One Missed Call reads like a laundry list of J-horror cliches. Cursed technology? Check. Long-haired ghosts? Two of ‘em, in fact. Characters speaking in the sort of hushed tones only the best sound system money can buy will enable you to hear? You betcha. Miike doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to falling prey to these conventions, but for what it’s worth, One Missed Call is put together a great deal better than some of its comrades. Though it may exemplify the man at his most mainstream, constrictions on his signature grisly style remain fairly loose. The death scenes first spring to mind, bits which are gruesome enough to illicit some well-earned shocks but still keep in line with the story’s tone. Some of these parts were pretty damn spooky, especially a televised exorcism in which a woman does her finest Linda Blair impression. The story is one of those that kind of makes up the rules as it goes along, but the flick creates such an unsettling aura, you tend not to care so much.

But for as surprisingly solid a start as One Missed Call gets off to, it doesn’t put nearly as much effort into ensuring an equally smooth landing. It’s as if Miike flipped some switch halfway through, stopping the funhouse atmosphere dead in its tracks and allowing a lethargic mentality to run rampant throughout the story. Once Yumi and Yamashita get to investigating, the film, which had already adopted a leisurely pace, becomes sapped of even more energy. It’s an absolute bore just watching these two wander around what’s apparently Japan’s biggest concentration of abandoned buildings. As a result, all those little chips in the armor you didn’t mind before start to bug you. Like I mentioned before, the story tends to churn out plot developments for its own benefit rather than bother to make any sense. The very ending serves up a twist so perplexing, I’m not even sure if it’s an actual twist. The film retains a bit of its creepiness (including when Yumi explores a deserted hospital), but the pacing is so joyless, you don’t know whether to scream or to yawn.

Like most of the decade’s high-profile Asian horror titles, One Missed Call was “blessed” with its own crummy American version last year. I have to say that the original trumps it by leaps and bounds (read: it’s actually comprehensible), but don’t take that as a glowing recommendation. Though One Missed Call shares a few groovy moments, most viewers will feel like hanging up on this derivative ordeal before the final credits arrive.

Rating: ★★☆☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

Read Chris Luedtke’s One Missed Call review here.

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